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After-Hours Peacock Fights at the Freer|Sackler

Posted on June 25, 2015 by in The OFI Blog

On the third Thursday of every month, the shutters of James Whistler’s spectacular Peacock Room at the Freer Gallery are opened, showing off the room in all its blue and gold glory. Visitors can enjoy the light-filled space all day, and for the months of May, June, and July, the Freer and Sackler Galleries are also offering a free after-hours open house featuring both the Peacock Room and the special exhibition Peacock Room REMIX: Darren Waterston’s Filthy Lucre. The photo below shows Waterston’s eerie remake of the Peacock Room’s original centerpiece–Whistler’s painting The Princess from the Land of Porcelain.

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As an intern at the Smithsonian Office of Fellowships and Internships (OFI), I like to stay apprised of and attend as many of the Smithsonian’s special events and activities as possible, and I was intrigued when I saw the most recent After-Hours Open House show up in my Facebook newsfeed a few days before the event, which happened on June 18th. So, I coordinated with a few friends to meet after everyone was done with work for what we hoped would be a fun and educational evening, and that we definitely had. At the entrance, an intern offered us temporary tattoos featuring the stars of the night–two dueling peacocks–in glimmering gold, which I obviously accepted. Downstairs, we drifted around the Filthy Lucre exhibition, admiring all of the work, such as the sketch below, that Waterston put into designing his interpretation of Whistler’s famous “harmony in blue and gold.”

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The Filthy Lucre installation itself was a stunning representation of the dangers of beauty and excess. The peacocks who originally squabbled in Whistler’s Peacock Room now viciously eviscerated each other as gold seeped across the floor like spilled blood.

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The event also included curators at the ready to answer questions and featured performances by Museum Hack, a group that gives creative, unorthodox tours at museums in DC and New York City. We even got to try our hands at peacock-inspired art with paints, gold leaf, and miniature terra cotta pots in the art studio. The results (shown below) weren’t quite as exquisite as the museum pieces, and we may have left with more gold leaf stuck to our hands than our pots, but we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves nonetheless.

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There is one remaining Third Thursday After-Hours Open House at which to learn about the controversial backstory of the Peacock Room and to experience Waterston’s fascinating interpretation of it in Filthy Lucre. It will be on July 16th from 5:30-8 p.m. at the Freer|Sackler. For more information, see the museum’s event page here.